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LDS dentists are 'teaching the teachers'

It was the moment Elder Frederick J. Meyers had waited for — the stream of people receiving dental attention at the clinic where he provides technical support in Lima, Peru, seemed limitless.

A dental instructor assisted by students conducted surgery. A graduate student trained a group of future dentists to use an intra-oral camera. Elder Meyers, himself, solved two diagnosis problems, then assisted more students with a case that required both his professional expertise and the modern equipment found in the clinic.

The six dental chairs in the room — one of the most modern dental clinics in Peru — were full.

Watching the scene was exhausting. Participating in it, said Elder Meyers was wonderful.

Elder Meyers, a dentist, and his wife, Alma, are full-time missionaries with a humanitarian assignment at the San Marcos University Dental School.

For years LDS dentists have conducted service projects around the world, returning from Third World countries encouraged by the few they could help but discouraged by so many service opportunities beyond their reach.

Moving equipment through customs is difficult and expensive; a huge obstacle because dental services are equipment dependent. And there is always more to be done than one dentist could do in a lifetime, let alone a few days.

Through Church Humanitarian Service efforts, Elder Meyers and other dentists, members of the Academy of LDS Dentists, are amplifying the impact of their service.

The Academy of LDS Dentists, which has more than 500 members, was formed in 1977 to provide dentists with opportunities to share professional knowledge with each other; give service worldwide; and help educate future LDS dentists through scholarships. The organization uses funds generated by its annual conference, membership dues and donations to sponsor service projects.

Members of the LDS academy will always serve the individual, said Gerald S. Summerhays, an officer in the Academy of LDS Dentists. But now, he added "we are teaching the teachers."

Members of the academy have, among many other projects, provided health screenings in Trinidad; purchased equipment to outfit six dental offices in Moscow, Russia; offered dental services to orphans in Guadalajara, Mexico; and volunteered dental care to the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico. In addition to Church Humanitarian Service, they have also participated in projects sponsored by humanitarian groups such as CHOICE, Deseret International, Chasqui, Ayuda and others.

The academy currently offers professional support to Church humanitarian missionaries, such as Elder and Sister Meyers, as well as two additional couples, serving at the University of Indonesia dental school.

These couples train dental school faculty members, build close relationships with other professionals in the countries where they serve and assist in providing improved service to poor.

For example, on Oct. 23-27 a group of LDS dentists and hygienists traveled to Peru to offer services to the poor. They carried with them 11 suitcases of donated dental supplies.

The project, the first of its kind at San Marcos University, was a huge success. Brother Summerhays said the academy hopes to continue to do more service projects at the school.

"Working in the San Marcos Dental School was the opportunity of a lifetime," said Robyn Furse, an LDS volunteer on the trip. "We were a unified team of dental professionals from four states and Canada with the specific purpose to be instruments in the hands of the Lord in serving our brothers and sisters in Peru. My life will be forever changed by this experience."

Jon Gerritsen, vice president over service for the Academy of LDS Dentists, said the clinic in Peru is "a prototype for what we feel can happen all over the world."

Church Humanitarian Service has relied on the volunteer efforts of the Academy of LDS Dentists to provide the professional help needed for the Peru clinic, including teaching materials, equipment and supplies. The majority of equipment, from compressors to handpieces, were donated by manufacturers. "The Lima project is setting a totally new standard," said Brother Summerhays.

Similar things are happening in Jakarta, Indonesia, where Elder Terry and Sister Danne Morris and Elder Richard and Sister Norma Smith are working to improve the University of Indonesia dental school curriculum. They have faced challenges, dealing with 50-year-old equipment and working in an environment where infection control is almost non-existent. But they are making an impact.

Currently these missionary couples are working to institute a comprehensive dental sterilization program.

Like the Smiths and the Morrises, Elder and Sister Meyers can see their influence for good.

They have been the subject of positive newspaper and journal articles in Peru. They have gained the respect and admiration of the faculty, students and patients. They helped establish a satellite clinic that will serve the most needy. They have seen the results of their examples of honesty, integrity, charity and moral work ethics.

When the Meyers leave Peru next summer, they expect the dental school will be more self sufficient. Elder Meyers said, "That is a goal I am confident we will accomplish."

Sincere appreciation has been expressed to Church Humanitarian Service by dental school administrations in both Peru and Indonesia for its support. In turn, Church Humanitarian Service is grateful for the collaboration of the members of the Academy of LDS Dentists.

For more information about the Academy of LDS Dentists, please see www.academyofldsdentists.com or write: Academy of LDS Dentists, 147 Harmon Building, BYU, Provo, Utah, 84602.